Another good thing in life – Salt.

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Salted Cod or Bacalhau.

Sally Fallon wrote an article, ‘The Salt Of The Earth.  Why salt is essential to health and happiness‘ on the Weston A Price foundation website, click on the link to the full article.  And it basically set me off again – all these good things in life demonised – saturated fat, red wine, coffee, red meat, chocolate and salt.  We have it drummed into us to avoid saturated fat, salt and red meat- they are the foods of destruction; they are the cause of our fatness and our high blood pressure. And as we strive to cut these things out of our diet, our waistlines determinedly ignore our efforts at reduction and our health still declines, with rates of heart disease and diabetes worsening. Clearly we all either blithely ignore the advice and stuff down piles of pork scratchings with added salt whilst slumped, slack jawed, in front of Sky Sports – or  possibly part of our dietary advice might be flawed. I have already written about the benefits of salt, however such is the misconception surrounding salt, that here are nine points made by Fallon in her article. Sometimes I explain what some of the terms used mean.  As a starter, salt’s chemical name is sodium chloride.

  1. Our body constitutes about 57% water – and that water is salty.  We are our own portable oceans.  Since there is more in our body’s ocean than just sodium chloride,  the salts are called electrolytes.  In the vast chemistry set that is our body, our electrolyte levels need to be kept constant and to accomplish this, when these levels drop, the body accelerates loss of water, in order to concentrate the salts level.  As we age, our electrolytes tend to naturally decrease, unless we keep our salt intake up, so following a low salt/salt less diet means we slowly desiccate – and get more and more wrinkly.
  2. Salt plays an important part in digestion.  The chloride provides part of hydrochloric acid – HCl – or stomach acid, utterly critical for breaking down proteins, breaking nutrients from their protein carriers and for killing nasties lurking on our food.  Digestive enzymes, important for breaking down carbohydrates, are sodium dependant.  And finally sodium also used in the manufacture of bile, critical for fat digestion.  Apparently the kidneys are capable of filtering 6 lbs of salt a day!
  3. Salt and blood pressure.  The Japanese have the highest salt intake in the world and have the longest life expectancy.    Salt has a major function in the regulation of  blood pressure, and the flexibility of the blood vessels (the arteries and veins).  Salt sensitive people can ameliorate the effects by following a Mediterranean type diet – very rich in vegetables and fruits  – which has an alkalising effect on us.  Upon salt reduction, 30% of people have a small reduction in blood pressure, 20% have a small increase in blood pressure and 50% are unaffected.  Even the most drastic increase of salt intake does not raise blood pressure.
  4. Salt and the brain.  Salt is critical for the manufacture of the glial cells in the brain.  Glial cells surround the neurons and hold them in place, they supply nutrients and oxygen to the neurons (the brain cells), they insulate one neuron from another, they destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons and they modulate neurotransmission.  So utterly vital to a brain.  And so salt is vital to a developing brain – such as a baby’s brain.  Fallon talks about a baby milk manufacturer being sued and ultimately going out of business, because of the brain damage caused by its salt free baby-milk.  To go on a low salt diet when pregnant, or to put a baby or growing child on a low salt diet will lead to a massive albatross to bear as the child grows up.  And God knows, we get enough of those in the best of circumstances.
  5. Here I am going to quote from the Sally Fallon article: “By the way, one hazard of beer drinking is a disease called Beer Potomania, a condition of low blood sodium common among beer drinkers.  The condition is characterized by fatigue, confusion, dizziness and in extreme cases, coma – so if you pass out at the bar, too much is not necessarily to blame, it might be a case of not enough salty peanuts.”  Beer Potomania is a version of hyponatremia – this is caused by drinking too much water, and brings us back to the first point.  The water in the body has to have sufficient amounts of electrolytes and flooding ourselves with too much plain water or too much beer upsets this balance in our internal ocean, resulting in the symptoms already listed.  Drinking too much beer and being sick only compounds the problems.  Pass the salty nuts. Yum.
  6. Sally gives a brief history of salt and here are four points: i)as we slowly changed from a pure hunter gatherer lifestyle and started settling, our major way of preserving food was by salting it. ii)Due the the importance of sodium and the manufacture of those glial cells in the brain, our increased salt intake made us brainier. iii)Hunter gatherers get their salt from drinking the blood,  and sometimes the urine, of animals.  iv)Moving hastily onwards, the fourth point she makes is that in parts of the world where there is naturally a low sodium content in the soil, the human populations were much more sparse.
  7. The article ends with the modern day salt wars.  These began in1972.  By 1978 salt was called ‘the most dangerous food additive of all”.  In 2005, USDA guidelines suggested an intake of 6 gms of salt a day.  By 2010 this had been reduced to 3.5 gms a day.  Since it is only too easy to get hysterical about conspiracy theories, I am going to directly quote Fallon’s next point.  “The interesting thing about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Committee’s call for more salt restriction, is that this time the food companies are not objecting.  In fact, a number of food companies have announced that they will be reducing the salt content of their products by 20%.  This includes many food giants such as Kraft Foods and Nestlé……… Of real concern is the fact that these announcements about salt reduction just happen to have occurred as a new salt substitute, Senomyx, is readied to enter the market place.  The Senomyx salt substitute is clearly a chemical product that works on the body as a neurological agent, causing an individual to perceive a salty taste.  It would seem to be nothing more or less than a neurotrophic drug.”  The company that has developed Senomyx is calling it a food, and so therefore Senomyx does not require the testing procedures that pharmaceuticals have to undergo. It is so potent that only a tiny bit need be added, and therefore it will only be labelled as an ‘artificial flavour’.
  8. The article closes with a series of recent studies,  finding that salt restriction is associated with increased cardiovascular disease and death, with increased insulin resistance,  is linked to causing obesity as people binge in an effort to satisfy their salt requirements and there is no link between salt causing asthma.
  9. The best salt to eat is unrefined, since this contains micro-nutrients and a good balance of sodium and potassium.  Typical examples are Celtic Sea Salt and Himalayan Rock salt.  Unrefined sea salts are wet salts, and need special salt grinders, or places like Regenerative Nutrition sell ground unrefined sea salt, which gets around this problem.

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